Biosocial: A brief conceptual history

I have recently come across the word ‘biosocial’ in various social science debates about epigenetics and other advances in the life- and bio-sciences. A chapter in a book on ‘social epigenetics’ (and the ‘biosocial’) says for example: “Epigenetics has considerable potential to transform social science by embedding mutually regulative reciprocal connections between biological and social …

Hybrids and chimeras: Mythology, history and science

Last week two papers were published about human and other chimeras, one in Cell on ‘Interspecies chimerism with mammalian pluripotent stem cells’ and one in Nature entitled ‘Interspecies organogenesis generates autologous functional islets’. The first one caused a bit of a stir in the newspapers. About 70 newspaper articles covered this potential scientific breakthrough in All …

Making sense of plasticity

I recently got an invitation to a workshop on ‘Plasticity and its Limits’ (which will bring together scholars from the social sciences, humanities and life sciences). When I accepted the invitation I had, I have to confess, not given much thought to the concept of plasticity – I had, however, written some blog posts about …

Assembling a synthetic human genome: Science and the politics of openness

There has recently been some commotion in the field of synthetic biology about a meeting held at Harvard on 10 May 2016 at which scientists discussed the creation of a synthetic human genome. The meeting was a closed, invitation-only meeting. In a field of science that takes pride in its openness and transparency, this created …

On books, circuits and life

I have recently been trying to understand CRISPR, gene editing and genome editing. While reading about these new developments in genomics, I noticed that in the avalanche of news reports reference is only rarely made to synthetic biology (on 5 January there were 188 articles on CRISPR in Major World Newspapers on the LexisNexis news …

On the metaphorical origins of gene drives

This morning I woke up to a bit of chat about ‘gene drive‘ – this year’s science breakthrough of the year –, first on twitter, then on the radio. This made me think about the use of terms like gene drive, gene driver, gene driving and where they come from. It also made me think …

Gene editing, metaphors and responsible language use

Last week I was following the progress of the International Summit on Human Gene Editing, which took place in Washington between 1 and 3 December, 2015. On the last day, I was looking at my twitter timeline and saw that Megan Allyse (a former PhD student) had posted information on a special issue devoted to …

The book of life: Reading, writing and editing

I have been observing the use of the ‘book of life’ metaphor in genetics and genomics since the year 2000, when it was used to announce that the human genome, our entire DNA, had been roughly sequenced. The Human Genome Project had begun in 1990 and was completed in 2003. Its achievement consisted in finding …

The colours of biotechnology

I have recently been musing about images used to make science public and wondered what images are out there for synthetic biology. I knew that in the past cloning was visually represented by ‘Dolly the sheep’ or ‘armies of little Hitlers’, nano found its visual incarnation in nanobots and fantastic voyage, but what images would …